First Mesothelioma Patient Undergoes Robot-Assisted Surgery

Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that a doctor at the University of Arizona Medical Center recently performed the first-and second-ever robot-assisted extrapleural pneumonectomy on two mesothelioma patients. The doctor used the new da Vinci Surgical System, a controversial new technology in the highly complex procedures.

An extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) is one of two main resection surgeries available to those with mesothelioma. EPP is the more invasive procedure, removing one entire lung, lining of the lung, diaphragm, and pericardium siding (sac surrounding the heart). The diaphragm and pericardium are reconstructed after surgery with artificial patching. The other popular mesothelioma surgery, pleurectomy/decortications (P/D), is significantly less aggressive, removing as much of the tumor as possible to enable re-expansion of the lung and relieve pain. Operative mortality from P/D is less than 2%, while that from EPP ranges from 6 to 30%.

The patients in this case underwent EPP because their mesothelioma was significantly advanced and widespread. One of those patients, Carlos Tarazon, was almost without hope after his initial diagnosis. Because of the nature of the disease, mesothelioma is often not detected until its latest stages, when it is unable to be treated with traditional cancer therapies and very few treatment options remain. For many, surgical resection procedures are the last chance at survival.

Tarazon had a long career in construction, which is the occupation most at risk for asbestos exposure. Upon his diagnosis, he and his family sought the help of Dr. Farid Gharagozloo, who heads the U of A Health Network Thoracic Oncology Program. Though the procedure is dangerous, Tarazon saw it as an option for life.

Dr. Gharagozloo chose to perform the surgery with the da Vinci robotic system because of its perceived benefits: reduced blood loss, shortened hospital stays, lower risks of infection, and reduced mortality rates. Tarazon’s procedure was performed in early January 2013. Today, he can be found at home, enjoying his family and friends and planning a fall hunting trip.

Indeed, the underlying philosophy of the da Vinci system is impressive: tiny incisions are made just big enough for surgical tools to fit, as surgeons sitting a few feet away operate the four-armed robot by using a high-powered camera, joysticks, and foot pedals. There are problems with the system, however, including that there are no national tests ensuring surgeons are proficient before they can use the robot. Dr. Gharagozloo did an outstanding job with this procedure, however, he may be among the minority.

To date, at least a dozen da Vinci robotic surgery lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. The first trial actually began this week, on Monday, April 13 2013. Plaintiffs in this case – the family of a man who died from a botched da Vinci surgery – are alleging that the robot’s manufacturer, Intuitive Solutions, failed to provide doctors with adequate training.

In 2011 alone, more than 250,000 hysterectomies and prostate removal surgeries were performed using he da Vinci system. Despite this, very few studies have been conducted measuring the actual effectiveness of the robotic systems versus traditional procedures. Numerous medical institutions, including the Kaiser Foundation and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have challenged whether the benefits really outweigh the risks.

In response, the FDA recently launched a survey of surgeons to determine whether an increase of complication reports with the system was the result of technological or human errors. The robotic system was associated with at least 70 deaths since 2009.

Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge any patients with an option for surgical resection to consider undergoing an EPP or P/D procedure, but to also be weary of robotic system assistance. We have decades of experience advocating on behalf of asbestos exposure victims, and can ensure you will receive the best representation and largest settlement possible with our firm.

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